The Golden State Warriors are about to do something that’s unprecedented in NBA history: they’re going to wear sleeves. The team will unveil a new t-shirt style jersey on Feb. 22. Paul Lukas, who runs the website Uni Watch and writes about sports uniforms for ESPN.com, joined Bill Littlefield.
BL: Describe this Warriors’ new jersey for us.
PL: It is, as you said, sort of akin to a t-shirt. It has a variation on the Warriors’ standard jersey insignia on the chest and then it has these sort of cap sleeves. They’re pretty short sleeves which is different than the usual NBA tank-top look that we’re all used to.
BL: Now, you’ve written that you’re a fan of the new t-shirt style design, but tell us about the Warriors’ new shorts.
PL: Well, the shorts that they are pairing with this new jersey are pinstriped, and the jersey itself is not pinstriped, so it’s sort of an odd mismatch there. And also the color of the gold – because both the jersey and shorts are gold – the two tones of gold don’t seem to match, so it’s an odd looking uniform put together, the shorts and the jersey. But the jersey itself, I do like. I think it has a really nice chest insignia, and I kind of like the sleeves. You know, we don’t think of sleeves of being worn in basketball, but they were very common — or, at least, certainly not unheard of — at the college level from the ‘50s well through the ‘70s, and there have been teams wearing them at the college level as recently as the early 2000s, so not so unheard of. And I’m not talking about the t-shirt under a jersey, like Patrick Ewing used to wear, but actual jerseys with sleeves. They were worn on the college level for quite some time.
BL: It’s interesting that you bring up Patrick Ewing because back in 1985, he had been wearing a t-shirt, of course, under his Georgetown jersey, and there was some speculation the NBA might go to the t-shirt under the jersey on his behalf. They didn’t do it. Why the change of heart now?
PL: I think part of the reason why is, as you might suspect, merchandising. If you compare a basketball jersey to the other sports, it’s sort of tricky to wear a tank-top around — to buy one and wear it. You can wear it to the game, maybe, but where else are you going to wear it? It looks a little weird to wear a tank-top. You can’t really wear it in cold weather. You have to wear the t-shirt under it if you’re going to wear it outside in cold weather, and so I think that the Warriors and the NBA in general think that something with sleeves, something more akin to a t-shirt, has better sales potential, and I think we may see more teams going to this sleeved alternate jersey. I know several teams have been in discussions about it.
BL: I’m very surprised by some of what you’ve said here, because half the staff at Only A Game comes to work in tank-tops pretty much every day.
PL: Really, is that so? And now are you wearing one right now as we speak?
BL: No, not me, not me.
PL: But I do think that merchandising is a big part of it. And you know if you go back to the small, rag-tag professional leagues that preceded the NBA — there was the NBL, which was the National Basketball League, and there were a few other sort of small barnstorming leagues, and they had a few teams that wore sleeves including the Sheboygan Red Skins. And the original Boston Celtics were in one of these pre-NBA leagues before they became charter members of the NBA in 1949. And so, yeah, the Celtics actually have a sleeved jersey in their history, but again it predates the NBA so this will be, when the Warriors bring it out, it will be the first sleeved jersey in NBA history.
BL: Well here’s what I’m hoping: the Warriors come out next Friday night, they streak out to a 27-0 lead, they win the game by 40 points, and the next morning 12 teams announce that they’re going with t-shirts.
PL: That’s certainly a possibility. There is a lot of superstition around this kind of thing. I do know the NBA’s plan right now is not to have any other teams to go with the sleeves this season. But it’s likely that several teams will opt for it next season. And also the NBA’s uniform outfitter is Adidas, and several of the Adidas-outfitted college teams are going to bring out sleeved jerseys before this season wraps up, so we’ll be seeing that during March Madness, the NCAA tournament, so you’re going to see more of these sleeves showing up for these schools that are outfitted by Adidas.
BL: Well, how about future possibilities such as long pants and hats?
PL: You know, if you just want to ridicule the idea I guess you could suggest that, but the truth is there are a lot of players in the NBA wearing long pants of a sort right now because you’ve got a lot of players who wear tights, right. They’ve got these leggings that they wear under their shorts, so the modern basketball uniform is really changing quite a bit from what we had been used to for so many decades.